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Interior moves to shield scientists from politics

Jan. 27, 2011 - 06:00AM   |  
By STEPHEN LOSEY   |   Comments
"This will apply to political appointees and career employees alike, so that good science is never choked out for the sake of expediency and politics," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told department employees at a town hall meeting Wednesday.
"This will apply to political appointees and career employees alike, so that good science is never choked out for the sake of expediency and politics," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told department employees at a town hall meeting Wednesday. (Tom Brown / Staff)

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Wednesday said his department will issue new ethics rules to shield the department's scientific work from politics and other outside influences.

"This will apply to political appointees and career employees alike, so that good science is never choked out for the sake of expediency and politics," Salazar told department employees at a town hall meeting Wednesday.

"Recognizing that science and scholarship play a vital role in this agency, we are the first agency to develop a policy on scientific integrity."

New ethical standards and a code of conduct explaining the new policy will be outlined in a new employee manual to be issued in a few days.

Interior's strategic plan, which was also released Wednesday, emphasizes the importance of maintaining high ethical standards and accountability. The former Minerals Management Service was disbanded last year for failing to properly oversee the oil and gas industries and for some employees' egregious ethical lapses, which included accepting gifts from oil and gas companies, use of methamphetamine and other drugs, and having sexual relationships with oil and gas company representatives.

"Interior will not tolerate the types of lapses that detract and distract from the good, honest service to the American people that this department provides every day," the plan said. "The department will embody this principle and will follow the law and hold people accountable."

The strategic plan also said Interior should be hiring new employees in 80 days or fewer by 2016. The report did not say how long it currently takes to hire someone new. The federal government is trying to overhaul its sluggish hiring processes, which often take about five months.

Salazar also said the department wants to hire more young people between the ages of 15 and 25 to help with conservation. The strategic plan said that by the end of 2012, the department wants its employment of young people to be more than 50 percent above 2009 levels.

The plan did not say how many young people it employed that year, or hopes to employ in 2012.

The strategic plan also calls for increasing use of alternative fuels by 10 percent each year, cutting information technology, operating and energy costs by 4 percent by the end of 2016, and reducing the department's data centers from 426 to 173 by the end of 2016.

Salazar lauded employees for their hard work responding to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and efforts to set up new agencies to replace MMS.

"This past year at the Department of the Interior has not been an easy year," Salazar said. "It's been a year full of challenges and full of complex undertakings. But we have survived it very well."

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